Wednesday, July 2, 2014

the piano, part one: acquisition

"My father, Ostlin Hanson and sax," written on back by Ada

Dave and Evelyn at the piano, about 1960
Ada wanted a piano. She grew up with a father who played saxophone in the local band, she played the piano, and she wanted her daughters to play as well. She did hard work, lived a country life, and she wanted a little bit of refinement in music. Wives of sheep herders and ranchers don't get an income, however, and though I doubt Paul had any objection to owning a piano, he objected to buying one. Since Ada had no money to her name, it seemed that she was out of luck. As my dad said, "Of course Paul wouldn't give her the money for it," even with all the work she contributed to the running of their land.

The situation reminds me of a scene in a book where a woman with four children and a successful husband tries to get some money at the gas station in rural Louisiana in the 1950s. She fills up her gas tank for five dollars and asks the clerk to charge ten to their account and hand her the other five. Though he's clearly done it before, the clerk won't do it this time; he's been ordered to stop giving her cash. (Ordered by the Mister.) No matter the wiles she uses, he won't budge.

Myself being a housewife who earns absolutely no money but has nearly complete control over the household expenses, I can't understand the conventions that reigned fifty years ago. That's how they lived, however, and there was nothing that fictional wives or real wives like Ada could do about it.

So here stands the problem. A desire for a piano, no income to buy it. But of course, that's not quite true. Sheepherders with a business to run would occasionally find themselves with excess lambs: motherless from a dead ewe or too many for her to take care of. In those cases, the ranchers would often dispose of the lambs because they were simply too much work to nurse to adulthood and usefulness. If someone wanted to take the bum lambs, however, they could bottle feed and coddle them until they were big enough to sell, though they'd still be worth less than the regular sheep. It sounds like a lot of work for a minimal reward; however, when choices are limited, people get crafty. People like Ada, who could get these bum lambs to adulthood and save the pennies she earned for a basic piano from Chesbro Music in Idaho Falls. So that is what she did.

When she had saved the money for the piano, she picked the one she wanted from Chesbro, and they were to deliver it to the Darlington house. When the man from the music store arrived with the piano, it became evident that he had delivered the wrong instrument. Ada had already paid for it, but he had no intention of returning the 80 miles to Idaho Falls and bringing back the correct piano. He told her she could take it or leave it. After all of that work! I'm pretty sure I would have wanted to smack him up side the smug face, or at least give him a withering stare. I'm not sure if she did either of those things, but I do know she took the piano.

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